23 & 24 September 2015 – to Serbia (Negotin) and the Iron Gates Gorge

Serbia is country number 21 on the tour, if I’ve counted correctly. It’s entirely possible I haven’t counted correctly, as I’m slightly tired after several long days cycling, however I’m still feeling fit and am enjoying the riding. I’m kind of pushing it at the moment to see how quickly I can make it back across Europe to the UK, with a view to possibly trying the Transcontinental Race next year, however I think I’m still a bit off the pace for that. Saying that the bike wouldn’t be as heavy, and the route more direct, for such an endeavour, so who knows.

Here are my routes and stats for the 23rd and 24th:

–> 23 September – to Negotin, Serbia (100km)
After a very pleasant night at the hotel Transimpex in Lom, I set my sights on Serbia, country number 21 of the tour! Slight calamity first thing; my honey bottle had leaked, causing a bit of a mess in my panniers, however once I’d cleared that up and finished my yoghurt and honey breakfast I set off, saying goodbye to the cycle tourer I met briefly last night, who is going the other way.

The road alongside the Danube towards Vidin is a tad on the bumpy side, causing a few occurrences of swearing when I hit bumps or potholes I hadn’t noticed, and you don’t really see the river for a lot of it. I did pass 4 cycle tourers going the other way, two from France and two on a tandem, all heading towards Turkey.

There were also a lot of heavy trucks on the road, however once past Vidin I made it to the border without incident. The crossing was very quiet, and I was soon through the Bulgarian checkpoint, saying hello to the bored looking guards and pedalling towards the Serbian side. On the way through ‘no mans land’ I stopped to help push a broken down taxi; it failed to bump-start, however we got it to the other side okay, then I had to walk back to get my bike.

The Eurovelo 6 route in Serbia is pretty well sign-posted, and I intend to follow most of it, just cutting out the odd meander where there’s a more direct route and I don’t miss anything interesting. It was only a short ride to get to Negotin, where I stopped or the night at Hostel Olimpik; another very friendly and comfortable hostel, that also provided dinner and breakfast, all for the inclusive price of about £12, bargain! I’d arrived in good time, especially since I’d gained an hour, so after a rest I went for a wander around town in search of ice cream and a few supplies.

I need to remember that it’ll get dark earlier now, especially since I’ve gained an hour, so I’ll need to start earlier to avoid having to cycle in the dark.

Another cycle tourer turned up a bit later, which provided some good company for the evening. Edi is Bulgarian, but has lived in Paris for the last 10 years, and is currently on his way to Sofia to meet his girlfriend before continuing to cycle around the world. You can follow his progress via his blog here: http://les-rayons-au-vent.blogspot.fr

Cycling around the world is quite an attractive prospect, and one that I’ve considered a number of times, however I think I’m going to stick with ‘shorter’ trips for the time being. Edi is going via Iran and then the Stans, which means having to get hold of several Visas, and remembering you can’t withdraw cash using VISA or MasterCard in Iran. He should be able to get an Iranian visa fairly easily, however it’s apparently difficult at the moment if you’re British or American.

It was good to relax and chat, and I’m excited about tomorrow when I head to the National Park alongside the Danube and the Iron Gates gorge.

–> 24 September – the Iron Gates Gorge (156km)
The mosquitos decided to attack overnight, which proved very irritating; both Edi and I broke out the repellent however I still got bitten several times. I still slept well, and breakfast set me up  well for a long ride; omelette, bread and jam.

I bid Edi goodbye and good luck on his ride South, and thanked Olivera the hostel hostess, before I pedalled off towards Kladova and the National Park. I set off at 08.30, however it felt later due to the clocks changing. After few hills I made it to Kladova, where the road swung North again, with Drobeta Turna Severin just across the river on the Romanian side. After a few more kilometres I made it the Iron Gates gorge and National Park. The gorge is the longest in Europe, at well over 100km, and has some Roman history with the Emperor Trajan having constructed a famous bridge over the Danube. The ride through the National Park and gorge was through some of the nicest scenery I’ve experienced in while, and made me realise how monotonous some of the roads have become recently lately.

Pedalling through inspiring countryside again did a lot motivate me, and provided a welcome distraction from thinking about the route ahead. The road was also fairly quiet, with little in the way of heavy traffic; just goats, cows, sheep, and frequent circling buzzards.

My ride was accompanied by the sound of cawing crows for a while; I was a little suspicious they were following me. I am always impressed by the intelligence of the Corvidae family, and it was interesting to see them dropping nuts on the road to crack their shells. I think they were attempting to get into Walnuts, there being a lot of Walnut trees in this part of the world.

It was relaxed riding today, with a lot of singing going on, leaving me in good spirits as I covered nearly 160km, with only about 3 significant climbs. I passed 11 other cycle tourers going the other way, with the usual waves and hellos, but none going my way; I think most people pedal South then either fly or catch a train back. I lost count of the number of tunnels I passed through, maybe 17, however they were all short and as such not suitable lairs for goblins or trolls, so Lobster stood down on guard duty. The tunnels were good fun from an echo point of view, enhancing my fine vocal talents no end.

I arrived at the campsite at about 17.00, which was deserted however the shower/toilet block was open, and the power on, so I thought maybe someone would be along later. As it turned out no humans appeared, however I was joined by a cat, and a bit later on by a dog; I think the latter was a stray however he was friendly enough, and slept next to my tent. I seem to be developing a tendency to attract stray dogs.

After a shower and some food, the sun quickly set, and I retreated to my tent to read and get an early night. Aside from the meowing cat, and latterly the snuffling dog, the campsite was very tranquil, however I did get woken up at about 23.00 as a few heavy squalls came through. The wind really shook my tent, and the rain was quite hard for a bit; thankfully no leaks!

Tomorrow I’ll push join to Belgrade for the night, before heading towards Hungary. I need to check the route and decide how close to the Croatia/Serbia border I go; might take a straighter route to Budapest, if it makes sense and doesn’t miss anything worth seeing.

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